DOCTOR, LAWYER, ACCOUNTANT. As a young Black woman, that was what I was told success looked like. In the course of my education, though, I was not exposed to any doctors, lawyers, or accountants who looked like me.
When I later became a teacher myself, I approached my science classroom as a space to provide my students with the perspectives of color that I was denied and the skills to ask questions about their world. In order to do so, I needed to address the biases that existed in the curriculum, which were the result of who was allowed to design these frameworks and whose stories were allowed to be told within them. I began to subtly adapt my lessons to try to combat these systemic biases, including one centering on a riddle that allowed my students to consider who they pictured when they thought of the word “doctor.”
I’m not the only teacher who has tried to make their curriculum more relevant for their students, but recently this common practice in education has come under attack. A coalition of right-wing politicians and media has fomented a hysteria around educators’ attempt to simply teach students an inclusive and accurate version of America. This group has successfully pushed state governments to ban educators from teaching about racism or “denigrating the Founding Fathers.” Already, teachers are being fired and students are missing out because of this ignorant, reactionary campaign.
It is time for someone to push back against this disinformation and not shy away from teaching difficult truths, including about the systemic inequalities that deny too many students the opportunity to succeed. Here in Massachusetts, we have a chance to affirm our support for inclusive education by passing the Racially and Culturally Inclusive Curriculum Act (H.671/S.304).
This bill ensures statewide curriculum frameworks are designed to build racially and culturally responsive knowledge and elevate the history, achievements, and key writings by communities of color in all subjects. That last part is especially crucial, because an inclusive curriculum is not just required in history classes (as was clear to me in my science classroom).
As state director of Educators for Excellence Boston, I speak with educators regularly. A Boston-based teacher recently told me about her vision for an English class where “an inclusive curriculum can engage students regardless of their reading level. Students would be able to access a variety of texts and see characters who look like them, experiencing real-life situations. The material would feature authors and characters of color providing engaging and informative literature for the students.”
She is not alone in demanding access to a more inclusive curriculum. In Educators for Excellence’s 2021 survey, Voices from the Classroom, we found that 65 percent of teachers nationwide do not believe their curriculum is relevant for their student population. In a year defined by racial reckoning, only 30 percent reported receiving guidance tools or materials for how to talk about racial injustice in their classrooms. We must do better.
To those who instinctively push against this effort to ensure that everyone is included in an accurate curriculum: why are you so afraid of making space for unheard perspectives? The purpose of education is not to promote sanitized propaganda that perpetuates a preferred narrative, but rather to present the world as it is to our students and try to give them the knowledge and skills they need to make it better. The evidence is also clear that giving students a chance to see themselves in the curriculum has academic benefits: a study by Stanford University found that students who took an ethnic studies course on average increased their GPA by 1.4 percentage points.
Massachusetts legislators must act now to ensure that students are taught in a way that has space for everyone. Passing The Racially and Culturally Inclusive Curriculum Act will not only ensure our Commonwealth has a better, more inclusive curriculum, it will also act as a beacon of hope for educators whose state governments are restricting their ability to freely teach. We can provide a blueprint for them to follow as they fight to ensure that one group’s ignorance and fear doesn’t keep our nation from doing what is right.
Lisa Lazare is a former high school chemistry teacher and currently serves as the state director for Educators for Excellence Boston.